Associate Bonus Watch 2011, Biglaw, Bonuses, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Updates and Addenda

3. Quinn Emanuel

With the Quinn Emanuel bonus announcement, we seemed to have the opposite problem from the Kaye Scholer coverage. My initial post expressed the view that the QE bonuses were “perfectly fair” — but several sources pushed back on that as overly positive. If you go back to the original post and look at all the updates added at the end, you’ll see the gist of the complaints.

The main claim of the Quinn bonus objectors is that the bonus scale undervalues marginal effort and hours worked. As Ted Frank of the Center for Class Action Fairness joked on Twitter, “$5000 for [working an additional] 300 Quinn Emanuel hours? I pay my attorneys more than that, and they get to work from home and argue in court.”

A commenter stated the case against the bonuses more succinctly: “I’m a Quinn associate. These bonuses are pieces of s**t.”

4. Sidley Austin

In 2010, our first post about the Sidley bonuses was very positive. But after we heard from some sources who received less-than-fabulous bonuses, we ran an update to temper the enthusiasm.

In 2011, we seem to have the opposite problem. We wrote a post describing this year’s Sidley bonuses as “drawing yawns from associates.” But in the days since our story, we’ve heard from Sidley sources who received above-market bonuses — and want the world to know about their firm’s generosity.

These tipsters feel that our initial post didn’t give Sidley sufficient props for its bonus payouts. As one (fairly junior) associate put it, “I received almost twice the Cravath bonus… [and] I know of others who did even better. A firm should get credit where it’s due.”

Said a second Sidley source:

I’m very surprised to see the article on Sidley’s bonuses. I can only speak for myself and three of my [junior- to midlevel-associate colleagues], but all of us got above Cravath level.

[Our group] has been busy this year, so it is possible that some of the other groups gave smaller bonuses. Still, I don’t think the Sidley bonus post paints a full picture.

We corresponded back and forth with some of these sources, and a theme emerged: they all billed well above 2000 hours. So it’s safe to say that one’s reaction to the Sidley bonuses may vary depending on how many hours one billed.

(Of course, the safest thing to say — and perhaps what we’ll say next year, a la our Gibson Dunn bonus post — is simply this: “Sidley bonuses are out. The scale is not transparent, so some people may be happy with their bonuses and others may be unhappy. Here is an open thread for you to discuss. Thank you.”)

5. Weil Gotshal

After we published our Weil Gotshal bonus post, the firm announced that it would pay $42,500 to its most-senior associates, in accordance with the Sullivan & Cromwell bonus scale. We’ve already updated that post, but since the update was added well after the initial publication, we wanted to highlight it here.

In our original post, we also asked about the significance of the “overall strong” bonus designation. This comment, corroborated by emails we received from WGM sources, seems to be an accurate summary:

[T]he partners try really hard to give everyone an “overall strong” rating — which just means you have an average “score” of 3 on a 5 point scale for your work. So pretty much everyone gets the “overall strong” bonus and if you don’t, then you’d better start looking for a new job asap.

In other words, it doesn’t seem that the “overall strong” language is being used to cheat people out of their bonuses; rather, it seems to perform the same function as the “good standing” requirement performs at other firms. (Firms understandably don’t want to pay bonuses to underperformers whom they’ve already asked to leave.)

We thank our readers for sharing information and opinions about bonuses at their firms. If you have bonus information for us, please feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477 / 646-820-TIPS). Thanks.

Earlier: Breaking: Cravath Bonuses Are Out; Welcome to the 2011 Bonus Season!
Associate Bonus Watch: Kaye Scholer Tries to Confuse
Associate Bonus Watch: Quinn Emanuel Rewards High Billers
Associate Bonus Watch: Sidley’s Bonus Match Draws Yawns From Associates
Associate Bonus Watch: Weil Matches Cravath (And There’s Nothing ‘Distinguished’ About It)

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